How Not to Sell Photos on Etsy


March is rolling in hard and fast...

We're one month down, with 11 more to go and I have some big goals to meet. Slowly, my plan for the year is taking shape, but one big thing I haven't focused on too much over the last month or so is the actual business side of my photography. Why? Probably the anxiety of not feeling good enough to stand up in the world and actually expect people to purchase my work, mixed with a little procrastination while I distract myself with other goals.

Writing things down is a powerful tool for self-commitment, it is for me anyway, and so sharing these thoughts with you now means that the wheels are in motion and I am on the road to hitting my big goal, making a little bit of money. One of my key objectives is to generate a small income from my photography to contribute towards the cost of making my images and the general running costs. My goals are big, and a little scary, but I honestly believe that if the goal isn't big enough, it's not worth meeting.

Selling my work isn't an entirely new concept; back in mid-2017 I felt my images were no longer just snaps for sharing, but had the potential to be legitimate products, so I did a little research as to how to begin my e-commerce empire. Besides setting up purchasing options on my website, I discovered Etsy.

For those who are not familiar, Etsy is essentially a platform similar to eBay and Amazon in that anyone can create a selling account and sell their wares. Unlike it's much bigger cousins, Etsy is dedicated to creatives selling handmade items, or materials for arts and crafts. It couldn't be simpler, much like eBay, you upload some pictures, insert a description set prices and postage and you're away!

So in September 2017, I launched my Etsy store, and full of boundless confidence and enthusiasm I hurriedly rushed to fill my store and sat back to watch the cash roll in! This was my 'business' model, well, thought process, which could have been taken from the 'Fag Packet School of Business' (for international readers, 'Fag Packet' refers to running your business by providing lots of important business details and information by writing it down on the back of a cigarette packet! )

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How Not to Plan a 'Business' 

1️⃣ Before I rush into this, what's my risk?

Well, I can't afford to have hundreds of images printed, and I certainly don't have space to keep them all. Besides, if I don't sell them, I'm stuck with a huge cost and not enough wall space to hang my failure. Ok then, print on demand it is.

That's the sensible bit out of the way, let's get making money!

2️⃣  Stack 'em High!

People like choice right? So give them choice! Let's fill the shelves with as many different prints as I can, offer those prints in a large variety of print sizes and different finishes so that people have all the choice they want!

3️⃣ Sell 'em Fast!

The quicker I fill my store, the faster I'll make sales! As Jeremy Clarkson always says, 'Speed is Power!'. What's even better is that I can copy posting's from postings, so it's even faster than I thought to fill the shelves, win!

4️⃣ Prices? What is everyone else doing?

A fairly quick search (like that of a hummingbird) of other photography stores on Etsy and skim reading their blog about setting prices, I learn that the average buyer spends around £30. OK, so I can't be too keen. I blitz figures for the print costs, add a markup and approximate delivery costs.

Ok world, my shops ready to go! Here I am, come and get me!

What an idiot. At times I do shudder when I think of the stupid things that I do. Here's my analysis of my initial business model, and how things actually turned out.

So, the first step I took really wasn't a bad idea, in fact, it was the best thing in all of this because I am not surrounded by prints I cannot shift and not riddled with a deficit that I need to climb out of. I will, however, return to this step later on.

Stack 'em high and sell 'em fast! We've all heard that before? Right out of the Dell Boy school of business and not a sustainable business model for what I was hoping was a potential legitimate micro business in the making. My theory is that the vast range of choice offered was overwhelming and inconsistent, and screamed amateur.

Please don't for one second think that I am not discounting that my work might just not be good enough, this is a very real possibility, and I would agree that some of the images just don't make the grade, but with 5 completed sales from 3 different images to the US and Aus means that I must be doing something right with regards to my photography. And I honestly believe that if you allow yourself to think that you're not good enough, you never will be.

Aside from the overwhelming choice of images and sizes, I hadn't accounted for the cost of the listings that Etsy apply. For one listing it's around $0.20 every 4 months, and the same again for each item sold. Small change right?

I had 50 listings at my peak of stupidity, which means that I have paid Etsy somewhere in the region of $40-50 for the privilege. But with 5 sales, I must have made a profit right? Haha, yeah...

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The first image sold went well, and there was a small profit, but I realized I had made my first big mistake. My chosen print lab (Loxley Colour, Scotland - incredible printing and super fast turn around) display their printing costs ex Vat, so I had undervalued my print costs by 20%!  I had also forgotten to account for the £5 delivery of the print to my address before I ship it out. Oh, and I hadn't accounted for the fact that if printing to a depth that wasn't just standard paper there was additional costs! This cost can double, triple or even quadruple the base cost of the print! Sounds ridiculous, but the way the costs are laid out it looks like the printing is included, well it does if you glance across it and are not paying proper attention, like a muppet. 

Despite these rooky mistakes, I was still scraping a merge profit at this point, at least until I received an order for one of my favorite Berlin shots in an extra large size on 5mm foam board. The sales before had been in flat stiff envelopes or tubes so postage costs were manageable, but not this beast. It turned up in a box the size of a family flat screen TV, and I knew right there and then that my international postage charge was not going to cover the onward journey to NYC. It had also cost me double to get it shipped from the lab in the first place! 

Looking back now, this was a bittersweet moment 

Seeing my work in such brilliant high-quality large print was awesome, but then the sickening feeling of having to pay out of my own pocket to honor the sale to the buyer. I wish I had canceled the order and put it on my own damn wall, but I am not that kind of guy.

Of course, I saw the error of my ways and started making price adjustments to my listings, and then started to notice some big errors. In my haste to fill the store, I noticed that I had made mistakes in one listing and copied them into others! So not only were people seeing my costs radically fluctuate as I tried to fix my financial woe, but potential buyers are reading listings that contradict themselves, have details relating to another listing altogether and generally look shit. This was the point I saw my shop traffic start to decline, along with my hopes and dreams... (just kidding, don't feel sorry for me, I'm an idiot!)

So the small profit's I had amassed from my earlier sales, less the compounding cost of the listings and the loss on the print to NYC mean that I am at £0, if not running at a deficit. I didn't keep proper tabs of costs (like an amateur) so I can't really tell you where I am with regards to Etsy. What started off as so much promise and potential turned into a spiraling nightmare which cost me time and money. So was it all worth it? Absolutely!

Yes, it has cost me time and money, but what I have gained in experience by learning some hard lessons I know what I need to do now to turn this around. The biggest lesson of all was scale; sure, a huge range of products looks impressive, but it's expensive to run, time-consuming to manage, overwhelming for buyers to browse and ultimately didn't equate to sales relative to the number of products. All it did do was increase traffic to the store and produce the Etsy equivalent of the Facebook 'Like', which does nothing more than feed ego but feeding my ego doesn't pay for my camera insurance, pay my web bills, contribute towards equipment costs or maintenance.

With these hard lessons firmly in mind, it's time to reboot the system and start work on a model that actually has creditability, is sustainable and more importantly profitable! I did intend to talk through my new plan here, but my ramblings are rolling more than I thought they would, so I shall provide a follow up to this post in the very near future. If you'd like to stay tuned in for the next installment, be sure to like my Facebook page or follow my Instagram account for news of the next post. I hope you do come back because I need some help for the next stage, and I'm going to provide a free gift to a randomly selected helper!

Until next time guys!


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